Ninja Gaiden II / Dragon Ball Z: Burst Limit

Burst Limit / Ninja Gaiden II box art

“Some men give up their designs when they have almost reached the goal; While others, on the contrary, obtain a victory by exerting, at the last moment, more vigorous efforts than ever before.” -- Herodotus

I'm not quite sure what drove me to buy Ninja Gaiden II on launch day. I'm not usually the type of person that anxiously waits for the emergence of a hyped title, but there I was, in my local Big Box retailer, getting the game alongside a promotional Ryu Hayabusa poster. The clerk gushed over the MSRP ($100) while I listened to my girlfriend sigh as she pictured me hanging my shame proudly. Like a Greek chorus, the voices of Internet gamers warned that I would be in for a world of hurt and frustration. I put their warnings aside, the bunch of whiny Cassandras that they are, as I popped the game in and salivated over the wanton destruction and dismemberment that my ninja steel would sow.

A week later, as my ego recovered from the atrociously hard difficulty ramp that vigorously pummeled my psyche, I traded it in for Dragon Ball Z: Burst Limit. All I could hear was the disembodied clatter of a thousand Model-M keyboards typing “I told you so.”

Clan Hayabusa
I've already heaped praise on the classic Ninja Gaiden (NES) and championed the flow of the modern Ninja Gaiden combat system. Having missed out on previous ventures, I eagerly jumped into the HD-compliant sequel hoping that I wouldn't be missing out on too much. The good news is that the plot in Gaiden II is just window dressing. I never felt that I had stepped into the middle of a grand story and missed out on all the setup.

The game's story is a lot like a $15.00 curtain set you pick up at Ikea. Functional, simplistic, without too much flair or flash. The scenes that progress the game's paper-thin plot served as little more than a chance to put down my controller or cry at my own inadequacy. The real star of the show was the impressively fluid and creative battle mechanics that enabled me to rend bone from sinew. I never really cared for the array of blades and sticks, as the Wolverine-like set of claws became my personal favorite. It's unfortunate that the rest didn't offer much to me, but that tends to happen when more than two or three weapons are put into action games. Likewise, I largely ignored the combo menu and chose to freestyle my combat. Who needs instructions to kick butt? Not me.

But a button masher this game is not. Make no mistake about it, I was punished severely for venturing into a crowd of enemies without a strategy. Even something as simple as “retreat once hit” proved to be a valuable battle-plan. The memorization aspect of certain combat scenarios definitely didn't win my praise, though. I quickly made friends with the continue screen, and we held long parlays over how damn cheap my previous death had been. To compound my rage, the programmers saw fit to return me to the intro screen of my stage after every failure. Why thank you, I had no idea I was in “The Lycanthrope's Castle.” I just love seeing the purple prose of the stage description pop up every time, too. Seeing this death after death was exasperating. Hence, the blood-slick the luster wore off.

Indomitable Spirit
When your game includes an achievement that's unlocked once the player hits 100 deaths, you know there's frustration abound. Gaiden II delivers in spades. Team Ninja remains unaware of how to balance their gory battle choreography with the immediate needs of the player. Cue aggravation as Spaz is juggled by a volley of unseen rockets, pincushioned by exploding arrows, or slimed by off-screen dragon snot. Amazingly, there are even times when the melee view is obscured by an errant wall or corner. I spent the entire game wondering how it is that a development team could make such a promising game and blunder through the camera coding.

I soon realized that Gaiden II was meant to be played in short bursts - a level here, a midboss defeat there - and it worked out to a more enjoyable trial. When I reached the final boss, however, something just clicked and said “that's it, no more fun out of this one.”

I'm sorry, Ninja Gaiden II, you've got a fantastic combat mechanic and the way you make references to the NES original is cute, but that doesn't make up for the feeling that you want to make me suffer, that I'm not hardcore enough to hang out with you. I ... I think we need to break up.

I ejected the disc, quietly put the game back into its box, and walked out the door. 30 minutes later, I returned home with something else. A shiny, simplistic bimbo that wouldn't shove complexity in my face like a dominatrix.

Enter the Dragonballs
I decided that Dragon Ball Z: Burst Limit would be the perfect chicken soup to comfort my wounded body. It was based off of a show which I had grown up with, had a simplistic but functional fighting engine, and by all accounts seemed like something I could play for an hour then walk away from, satiated. I was looking for a middling experience, and not a grand challenge. A chilli dog and chips, not a savory five-course Moroccan feast.

Fortunately, the game delivered for me in a big way. I breezed through most of the story mode in six hours. Unlike Gaiden II, whose normal difficulty equates to “advanced, with elements of hard”, Burst Limit's "normal" lets a player coast for most of the game. Like the numerous Dragon Ball Z fighters that have come before it (Budokai, Tenkaichi), Burst Limit admirably captures the animated series' dizzying portrayal of high-speed fighting, high-powered fireball duels, and corny drama. This isn't a deep fighter but it certainly pleased my inner otaku. I even found their cut-scenes to be faithful to the source material and not too horrible, though the inability to skip them was a bit of a pill.

In light of my favorable experiences, I can't really say it's a good buy. While I certainly enjoyed it, I can't be too certain that an average, non-anime literate person will be interested in it for more than a few minutes.

Kamehame-content!
The fact of the matter is that the game feels desolate. The story mode does little more than jump from one battle to the next, giving you a short motivational scene before and a post-fight drama dose after a fight is won. There is an assumption that one knows exactly what has, and will, happen to the characters. This was almost insulting when I unlocked a Bonus Scene which runs through the events of the anime series in about 4 minutes. The game designers had enough time to render out these scenes for a quick clip but couldn't be bothered to include a more comprehensive story for new players? For shame.

It's a good thing that the game comes with a copy of DBZ's first seven episodes as a bonus, but that too serves as a sticking point. With the story being so lacking, it feels as though the fighter was more of a promotional item for FuniMation's updated series redub than an actual fully-realized game. This is troublesome because prior fighters in the series were able to not only recreate the storyline, but also have a sizable character roster. Obviously the next entry in the series will patch up the flaws, but how many times will they release the same game with minute tweaks? More to the point, how many times will I allow myself to buy it? This is almost as bad as the Madden machine.

Like Gaiden II's half-baked doughyness, Burst Limit left me feeling like the developers could have taken a few extra steps to create a stronger experience but instead settled for a serviceable game engine that primarily works as a fanboy placebo for all the current-gen owners that want superpowered burly fighters at HD resolutions. So while it could be a better game, it's a perfectly fine average game as it is, and though it falls short in its story mode, it does have a few challenge modes that'll keep me coming back to it every now and again.

Back to Basics
While this entry may not serve as a warm welcome to the exciting gruntfest that is the Dragon Ball Z universe, the nurturing difficulty and familiar faces comforted me after the debacle that Gaiden II turned out to be. Burst Limit rewarded my mediocrity, reminded me of waking up at 6 on a Saturday morning to watch badly dubbed anime, and in turn, kept me engaged enough to want to churn to the end. It didn't need to excel, it already had a built-in audience who was familiar with the hooks and personalities. Gaiden II on the other hand, was a harsh mistress that demanded excellence at every turn. It didn't want me to win, it wanted to chip away at my soul. I just wanted to pound some heads and kick some butt, not be a true ninja master.

I don't believe that Burst Limit will have too long of a lifespan. It'll be a novelty until the next iteration of this franchise announces 50 characters, fully rendered episodes from the anime series, and improved cell shading. On the other hand, Ninja Gaiden II will prove to have an extremely long shelf-life, and will likely survive as a long-rumored ultra-hardcore gamer's game. Future games will be measured by this standard, and we might even be wowed by the incredibly bloody acrobatics that some intrepid masters will whip out of the combat engine. I'll likely revisit it when I can find it for about $10 on Craigslist or some bargain bin, to be honest.

But for right now, all I need is some cheesy, beefy aliens throwing colored energy beams at each other. I'm perfectly comfortable with that, even though I'm in the company of a bunch of 15 year olds.

Falcon Claw slash
Yamcha's noble end
Kamehameha launch
A scyte cuts into enemies

Comments

The thing with the camera in Ninja Gaiden, NG Black, NG Sigma, NG II... is that, even though I 100% agree that its not good and perhaps could have been a lot better, once you get a hang of it, its actually kinda workable.

Nei is right. I didn't have much trouble with NG2 (finishing it faster than Sigma, despite being a NG:Black veteran). The bosses aren't as good this time around as in NG:B, with an odd focus on using arrows or a specific weapon to defeat a particular boss. The combat in NG2 is, for a lack of a better term, Mob control. Stunning the enemy by jumping on them, or by attacking with Shurikens will often give you the attack window necessary to defeat a 2nd or 3rd opponent. Liberal use of the right-trigger is a must in order to keep your camera looking in ryu's direction. The easiest way to succeed at NG is the "ultimate technique" which will charge instantly if you hold "Y" just as Ryu touches down from a jump. It's a tough game, no question, but I don't think it's outside the realm of playability for most of the Goodj.

Stylez wrote:
It's a tough game, no question, but I don't think it's outside the realm of playability for most of the Goodj.

No, not outside the realm of playability, just outside the realm of patience.

I enjoyed the violence and I enjoyed the depth of combat, but man, this game is brutal. I finally slogged my way through it, but there were a lot of frustrating nights, let me tell you.

Apparently the technical glitches arise due to the fact that Team Ninja wasn't given the budget to develop or licence a new engine and had to use the old one.

I've always avoided NG, I don't want to have to suffer for my entertainment.

Alex "Spaz" Martinez wrote:
This was almost insulting when I unlocked a Bonus Scene which runs through the events of the anime series in about 4 minutes.

This has always been my problem with DragonBallZ.

Any given episode goes like this:

Announcer: Last time on DragonBall Z, (Heavy) landed on earth and started blowing things up. Goku, having spent the last three dozen episodes running along a floating road, finally got sent back to earty to defeat him. Can Goku stand against (Heavy?) Find out in today's episode of Dragon Ball Z.

Heavy: Haha! I am the most amazing fighter in the world.

Explosion.

Goku: I will defeat you!

Heavy: Oh yeah? Take this!

Heavy charges at Goku, which takes about five minutes. They fight. Goku knocks heavy a few hundred miles into the air, perhaps into a mountain which cracks.

Goku: Not bad, but my power levels are incredible.

[cut to Piccolo, looking shocked]

Piccolo: His power levels are incredible!

Cut to Heavy, dirty, bleeding and breathing hard.

Heavy: His power levels are incredible! But he'll never withstand this!

Heavy throws energy ball. Large explosion envelopes Goku. Still shot of Heavy, looking out of breath and pleased with himself, then a still shot of the bald dude with no nose, while the voice actor that plays him in the English version gargles phlegm. Gohan cries.

Announcer: Can Goku have survived? Find out next week on DragonBall Z!

I have nothing against the show. The storylines can be interesting, and I've always liked the humor in the english dubs (Bibbity beget Bobbity, who released Bu.), but sometimes I just wish they'd get on with things. To me, the show always felt like four minutes of story crammed into twelve hours.

Maybe I just don't get the point of the show.

I can't comment on NG2, but based on how brutal the difficulty was on the first game I will probably not pick up the second. Don't get me wrong, I like a good challenge. However, there is a fine line where challenge begins to interfere with fun, and NG crosses that line very early.

Fortunately, games like NG make for excellent fodder for web comedy; like this cartoon I found last night. http://www.newgrounds.com/portal/view/445123 Warning: PG-13 content.

doubtingthomas396 wrote:
To me, the show always felt like four minutes of story crammed into twelve hours.

Maybe I just don't get the point of the show.

I think you've summed it up nicely. Naruto's the same, x2.

Meanwhile, The Last Airbender actually has real stories, each told in a half hour, that support the overall series arc.

Hans

P.S. It just occurred to me... Dragonball Z and Naruto show us what anime might be if you turned JRPG developers loose to write a television show. "It's not 40 hours yet! More padding! Slow the pace!"

doubtingthomas396 wrote:
To me, the show always felt like four minutes of story crammed into twelve hours.

Maybe I just don't get the point of the show.

My buddy set up his DVR to record DBZ whenever it is on. We watched 30 minute episodes in 3-10 minutes depending on the episode. The action heavy episodes took a little longer, but the filler episodes in between went really fast.

The new American Gladiators is the same way, you can watch 2 hour long episodes in 20ish minutes of action.

Reviews like the ones above make me glad I do game rentals now. Sorry Alex, but both of those games are shouting a great loud "Rental Only!" to me.

And if you're interested in Dragonball / Dragonball Z, you should just buy the manga. It's not as expensive as the anime, the story's better, it's always been uncensored, etc. etc. This is for the folks in the thread who don't have an "inner otaku" of course

doubtingthomas396 wrote:

Maybe I just don't get the point of the show.

I absolutely agree with you, because as "epic" as these fights seem we all know they would take about 5 minutes to run through at a reasonable pace. It was pretty annoying to sit through an episode that was basically the expanded storytelling you describe when releases were a week apart. But as the show wore on, the weaknesses turned into this odd MST3k dynamic where my buddies and I would laugh over the last few episodes' content.

Anyway, part of the reason why DBZ developed this hyper-extended fight thing was because they needed to stretch their episode content to 20-some minutes. Dragon Ball, the original comedy-adventure show, had a lot of dialogue so the transition to animation was easier to pull off. But for DBZ, the quick pace of the fights would have had the animation studio burn through episodes so fast that the manga would have had no chance of keeping ahead. The solution was the extended power-up scenes and the "My power level is the most powerfuller! True power!" stuff we laugh about/hate now. It's unfortunately become a bit of a staple in the shounen genre, as is apparent with Naruto.

I think that's why I was such a fan of YuYu Hakusho when it was on. Fights took a while, but they were usually resolved in a clever way (using shoes as insulators against a lightning foe, as opposed to "RARRRRRRR MORRREEEE POWWWERRRRR").

And for all of us that semi-hate/semi-love the DBZ series, I heartily recommend Buttlord GT

KingMob wrote:
Reviews like the ones above make me glad I do game rentals now. Sorry Alex, but both of those games are shouting a great loud "Rental Only!" to me.

The thought occurred to me while I was mulling over the NG purchase, actually. I can justify Burst Limit since I can pick it up and play it for 30 minutes here and there when I'm bored. I thought NG would be fun to play through with the different weapons, but it was too cheap for me.

She and I, we just needed some time to cool off.

As a result, I've been giving a lot of thought to GameFly.

I've been playing Ninja Gaiden for a long time, and my kids have been dragging me through every rendition of Dragonbarf that has come along for the last ten years or so. I like both games for the reasons you list here.

When it comes to Ninja Gaiden I knew the job was dangerous when I took off the shrink wrap. The last version killed me in the tutorial level. I did a little better this time thank goodness. Since I don't get to play more than a few minutes of anything at a time it hasn't felt like any sort of slog yet and I guess my own expectations of my performance are so low it doesn't bug me so much when I die all the time. I think it's hysterically funny when the enemies keep getting back up even though they're missing limbs - it feels like I'm fighting the Black Knight. I'm just waiting for one of them to say, "I'll bite your kneecaps!" Haven't gotten to Burst Limit yet, but I can say from my experiences with Tenkaichi and Budokai, it's just a solid game aimed at a very different audience.

There's a lot more different reasons to play these games. I mean, one of the reasons my daughter is slogging through Ninja Gaiden II is because she thinks the new Ryu is hot. She doesn't care that it's difficult.

hidannik wrote:
P.S. It just occurred to me... Dragonball Z and Naruto show us what anime might be if you turned JRPG developers loose to write a television show. "It's not 40 hours yet! More padding! Slow the pace!"

It's a specific style of shonen/shoujo and it's very common. Inu-yasha has been called DragonballZ for girls. MAR, Rave Master, Negima and bunchteen others run the same way. That particular age group (8-12 or so) really love to wallow in this sort of thing. It's not just anime; even American shows in general aimed at that age group of kids are all that way. Mighy Morphin' Mind Suckers, anyone? Danny Phantom? Its not new, either. Ever watched The Lone Ranger?

Avatar is a good example of a slightly more mature style. For some others, get ahold of Whistle or The Prince of Tennis. Hikaru No Go is right on the verge. Even if a show starts that way the stories don't always stay in that style. The early Naruto is so shonen it's almost incapacitated by it, but Shippuden is in a much more realistically paced style.

momgamer wrote:
Danny Phantom?

You're kidding, right? Every Danny Phantom episode I've seen has a story with a beginning, a middle, and an end. There might be longer story arcs on top of that, but it's not 1 minute of action crammed into 23 minutes of show. I'm sure there are some cliffhangers as well, but almost every series has those, regardless of whether it's a single story told over the course of 1 or more seasons, a show where almost every episode is self-contained, or one with self-contained episodes having bits of overall story arc embedded within.

I suppose the closest thing in American TV to this shounen stuff is a show like 24.

Hans